E&T news weekly #46 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

April 17, 2015

Friday April 17 2015

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Paedophiles turning to bitcoin to trade sex abuse images

It seems depressingly inevitable, but no sooner is a virtually anonymous, untraceable payment system invented than people will find disturbing, illegal uses for that currency. Drugs came first with the Silk Road online narcotics smorgasbord and other similar marketplaces. Now, paedophiles are reportedly using bitcoin, the most common virtual currency, to trade child sex abuse images.

Successful hacks and cyber attacks commonly result of human error

In a story that will doubtless have every technical support operative in every IT department in every office building around the world nodding their head in a resigned fashion, it turns out that the vast majority of successful hacks and cyber-attacks are the result of the more gullible employees clicking on attachments in phishing e-mails. Apparently, as few as 10 spoof emails sent to a company can often be enough to gain access to at least one hapless employee’s PC and from there the hacker can work their way into the wider company network. Proof positive that you can have the fanciest, most high-tech security system in place, but there’s still no legislating for stupidity.

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology editor
Acoustic technology to combat California drought

California has been struggling with crippling drought, now in its fourth year. It’s a multifaceted issue, of course, but one of the culprits appears to be underground pipe leaks. An innovative approach is to find them early by means of acoustic detection: trying to spot the characteristic hissing sound of leaking pipes using special sensitive microphones attached to hydrants. Once a leak is discovered, it’s time to start digging to repair it. The technique is used in other countries too – but let’s hope it will help keep the Golden State from turning brown.

Laura Onita  Laura Onita, news reporter
UK’s total nuclear waste could fit in to one football pitch-sized site

All it takes is six 5km deep holes to bury all of the UK’s nuclear waste. Scientists came up with new ways for sealing radioactive waste into boreholes, which could be drilled, filled and sealed in less than five years. If field trials go well, we could soon be rid of our nuclear waste in no time, rather than wait for mined repositories to be built.

GPS sensors in smartphones could help predict earthquakes

It’s reassuring to know phones could help detect earthquakes before they happen, particularly for some of the world’s poorest regions where advanced early warning technology might not be available. A new study showed GPS sensors built into phones and other devices could detect ground movement caused by large earthquakes and alert people in advance of the onset of tremors.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Tech worker visas for immigrants hits record high in US

Immigration isn’t just a political hot potato in the UK. The US technology sector needs three times more skilled workers than it is allowed to import.

Alan Turing manuscript sells for $1m in New York auction

How much would you expect to pay for a notebook from a Cambridge stationers’ shop? It all depends who has written in it already and in this case it was Alan Turing.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Planes could be hacked through in-flight entertainment system

Yet another thing for nervous fliers to worry about as they board their plane. The person sitting next to you who looks like they’re trying to get the latest Transformers movie up on their fancy seat-back video display could actually be hacking into the aircraft’s flight control system, the US Government Accountability Office reckons. Cyber-security experts have told them that allowing control and entertainment to use the same wiring and routers makes them vulnerable to ‘potential malicious actors’ apparently, and no, they don’t mean the cast of that Transformers movie.

UK’s total nuclear waste could fit in to one football pitch-sized site

Good news that clever technology from a UK university that makes it easier and quicker to store nuclear waste is on the fast track in the US where it could be trialled next year. Obviously there’s much more to this than digging a hole and putting the waste in but it does seem worrying that a UK mined repository using existing technology isn’t due to take its first waste until 2075. Sceptics will be nervous about everything being concentrated in one site the size of a football pitch, which would presumably raise a host of security issues.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Planes could be hacked through in-flight entertainment system

As cyber-attacks become more frequent, it’s hardly surprising that most devices we now use have the potential to be hacked. Now, the US Government Accountability Office has revealed in-flight wireless entertainment systems can be hacked to access flight controls. The problem lies with the systems using the same wiring and routers as flight control, despite firewalls being set in place; the finding shows a cyber-security threat model is required.

Robotic chef hands unveiled which learn and mimic human actions

Robotic chefs could be coming to a restaurant near you! Well maybe not just yet, but Moley Robotics has developed a prototype autonomous cooking machine which uses two robotic arms to mimic human actions. It records the cooking process, such as chopping, cleaning and stirring, in 3D and maps individual motions which are turned into commands to control the arm movement.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Smartphone payments for Seattle’s homeless newspaper vendors

This is a great development, not just for the Real Change newspaper, but for the homeless people it employs. The project was set up to help the homeless and low-paid sell the Seattle newspaper who struggle in an increasingly cashless society. The app from Google is going to accept digital payments through customers’ smartphones by scanning a barcode. If this eventually helps the homeless off the streets into a more stable and healthy environment, then I’m all for it. The paper was founded in 1994 and helps 800 low-paid and homeless vendors in the Puget Sound area. All I can say is well done to Google volunteers, who are helping the homeless adapt to technological advances.

@Conservatives push ahead with contentious #Trident nuclear submarine programme – an annotated infographic

April 16, 2015

In the midst of UK election fever, what better way to throw your incumbent weight around than by committing to the purchase of four shiny new nuclear submarines?

The Conservative Party has decided that what this nation needs more than anything – e.g. better hospitals and schools for everyone, regardless of income levels – are four new Trident missile-armed submarines in order to maintain the country’s nuclear deterrent.

Forgive us for stating the bleedin’ obvious here, as we certainly do not purport to understand the complexities of caretaking our national defence policy, but even the writers of James Bond movies are no longer so stuck in the Cold War-era mentality where Johnny Foreigner bad guys with big missiles and nefarious intent need to be kept at bay with steely British resolve and a submarine chock-full of even bigger missiles. The genuine threat these days appears to come from high-tech hacking cyber-terrorists and unpredictable religious zealots.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Trident: an explosive issue

Trident: an explosive issue

#AppleWatch officially quite popular – an annotated infographic

April 16, 2015

From the top drawer of the “so obvious it surely isn’t news” files comes the statistical confirmation that a lot of people around the world really, really want an Apple Watch.

Soaring demand online for Apple’s new wearable device has obliged our favourite Californian tech uberlords to push back its delivery dates from April 24 to June.

The first Watch models arrived in UK Apple Stores this week for customer gawking, pawing and general uncontrollable slavering.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Watch: out

Watch: out

E&T news weekly #45 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

April 10, 2015

Friday April 10 2015

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
First T-pylons appear on British skyline

The traditional British steel-lattice electricity pylon is one of those designs that can genuinely be described as iconic, having appeared in so many places – usual straddling a cornfield or dominating a green landscape – as shorthand for the march of technology. The new T-pylons which started going up this week aren’t a direct replacement but at two-thirds of the height will be less visually imposing and better suited to some situations. Only a few are being constructed to start with but in the future they’ll be something to look out for and perhaps the basis for a new ‘spotting’ game to keep kids occupied on long car journeys.

Kinase analysis biochip ‘will speed up cancer drug development’

One of the downsides of increasing life expectancy is that more of us are going to survive long enough to develop diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Coming up with new treatments is one of the big challenges at the interface of technology and medicine and this device, which uses semiconductors to quickly measure enzyme activity, is a great example of how clever thinking can speed up the drug development process.

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
New battery could charge phone in one minute

This tech development is music to the ears of smartphone owners throughout the world as it will greatly reduce the risk your phone running out of juice at a crucial moment. A battery “less prone to catching fire”, is always a winner in my book too.

Lib Dems raise low-emission car stakes with £100m prize pledge

Any incentives for automotive manufacturers to produce low-emission vehicles should be encouraged, but I wonder whether the Lib Dem pledge will mean much to the automotive industry. After all there’s no guarantee they’ll win the election or remain in government and even less assurance that they’ll stick to this pledge given their recent history.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Oil find near Gatwick could be bigger than North Sea oil fields

I was rather amused to find out about the discovery of substantial shale oil reserves near Gatwick airport, or, to be more precise, in the Horse Hill area of Surrey. The reason is that I happen to be familiar with that very picturesque spot of English countryside and have even spent some holidays at a local farm-cum-B&B. I fully understand the importance of the find (my imagination conjures up visions of huge refineries, processing crude oil straight on the spot and turning it into high-octane petrol to be pumped into the insatiable bellies of the planes, revving their engines impatiently on the tarmac of Gatwick airport), but would be very sorry to see the area’s scenic beauty overshadowed by oil pump-jacks, nodding like praying Orthodox Jews (as seen on a photo in yesterday’s Evening Standard). One of the best Horse Hill experiences I can recall was fishing in one of the farm’s ponds. And although they say that oily fish is good for one’s health, I dread to think what kind of a catch one will be able to ferret out of that pond when (and if) oil extraction commences.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
New battery could charge phone in one minute

The majority of smartphone users will say they have to charge their phone at least twice a day, but scientists have found a way to solve the problem. They have made a battery from aluminium which can fully recharge a phone in a minute, and replace alkaline batteries which are harmful to the environment and replace lithium-ion batteries which are known to burst into flames.

Oil find near Gatwick could be bigger than North Sea oil fields

UK Oil & Gas Investments claims a new oil reserve found near Gatwick could meet up to 30 per cent of the UK’s needs. However the difficulty with extracting the oil could bring this percentage down to 5 per cent, but it still has the potential for daily oil production. Compared to the North Sea, which has produced 45 billion barrels in 40 years, the new field found could hold 158 million barrels per square mile.

New book blog: ‘Alex Through the Looking Glass’ by Alex Bellos

April 9, 2015

Alex Through the Looking GlassEvery maths teacher in history must have had their own answer to the perennial student question, “But what’s the point of learning this?”. In this reviewer’s case, it was an enthusiastic but ultimately unconvincing explanation of how useful a knowledge of basic trigonometry had proved in putting up a garden shed.

More engaging – and it should be, coming from a professional journalist who blogs about the subject for the Guardian as well as working as the paper’s foreign correspondent – is Alex Bellos’s latest book ‘Alex Through the Looking Glass’, now available in handy paperback format convenient for flinging at any youngster who doubts the relevance of maths to everyday life.

Bellos succeeds in making even daunting topics like calculus engaging by the simple process of talking to people to whom they matter, and finding out why. The result may not quite live up to the publisher’s promise that readers will learn about complex concepts without realising, but pay attention and you’ll gradually get a feel for why they matter, even if the intricacies remain beyond your grasp.Alex Bellos

In the small but significant genre of books that promise to take the pain out of maths while entertaining the reader at the same time, this is one that, like the same author’s earlier ‘Alex’s Adventures in Numberland’ stands out. You even get to find out what a survey of more than 30,000 people revealed to be the world’s favourite number, and the possible reasons why.

‘Alex Through the Looking Glass: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life’ by Alex Bellos is published in paperback by Bloomsbury, RRP £8.99, ISBN 9781408845721

E&T news weekly #44 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

April 2, 2015

Friday April 2 2015

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Gigantic airship launches equity crowdfunding drive to fly again

Airships might seem like a throwback to the past, but they still have potential uses, especially for carrying heavy loads to and from remote places that don’t have runways for conventional cargo planes. A year ago, when Hybrid Air Vehicles unveiled its first airship to the press in the historic hangar at Cardington, the project’s backers were talking optimistically about preparing for flight trials early in 2015. That schedule has clearly slipped a bit, but the company has secured £3.4m of government support this year, and now it is turning to crowd-funding to raise the matching private investment it needs to get HAV10 airborne.

Graphene light bulb heads for shops

Graphene was discovered at the University of Manchester 11 years ago, so it’s good to hear that the university will benefit from the material’s rapid progress from arcane research topic to commercial application. Apparently we will soon be able to buy light bulbs incorporating graphene that consume less energy than LED bulbs, offer longer lifetime and cost less to manufacture.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Depression app created to analyse the user’s mental state

This app seems ideal for someone who suffers with depression. It’s unobtrusive, and with the many symptoms of the sometimes debilitating condition, could be a kind of guardian angel. The data gathered from the smartphone app can evaluate someone’s mental health over time rather than someone just filling out a questionnaire, which means sufferers would have to remember how they felt at the time. The app is called the LifeRhythm, and uses sensors, like the phone’s microphone and GPS, to create a detailed picture of the user’s mental state. Trials will hopefully run soon on university students, who suffer quite a bit of stress in their higher education, like being away from home.

Type 1 diabetes device is ‘step towards artificial pancreas’

Type 1 diabetic patients with insulin pumps could stop hypos in their tracks, thanks to this new diabetes device. It’s refreshing to see some progress on the Type 1 front. All I seem to see in the news is how there are leaps and bounds in the treatment of Type 2. I have a diabetic mother, who has suffered with Type 1 for over 30 years. Hypos can have horrible effects on diabetics, especially the older sufferers. When a hypo hits, my mum becomes irritable, angry, and often feels sick. It is known that hypos kill brain cells, thus repeated hypoglycaemic attacks can lead to permanent memory loss. The attacks also damage the body’s overall condition. I think this MiniMed640G device is a great thing, particularly for younger diabetics, who often have the ‘invincibility’ complex, and sometimes do not follow the rules. Diabetes is such a hassle in my mother’s life, so I’m glad something is being done to allow people to lead a freer existence.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Depression app created to analyse the user’s mental state

With a new app developed by Connecticut University researchers, your shrink could be watching your every move – or could he really? What if you go to the gym and leave the devilish device at home or stored safely in your backpack in a dressing room – will the shrink think you are not sufficiently physically active, an obvious sign of depression? Or what if you are just notoriously forgetful? You go to work or out with friends and your device sits on your kitchen table, sending out GPS information that you are stuck at home – another ‘obvious’ sign of depression? What if you prefer to talk with your friends over a cup of coffee instead of exchanging myriads of text messages, phone calls, Facebook messages or any other social media interaction? Your shrink would think you are not social – yet another indicator of depression, according to the researchers. Let’s face it Big Brother may not get anything near a perfect picture about anyone’s mental health just by collecting smartphone data.

City with 3.5 hour winter days to host Finland’s largest solar plant

One of the northernmost cities in the world, Finnish Oulu, has announced plans to build what is set to become Finland’s largest solar power plant. Thumbs up Oulu, I applaud your renewable enthusiasm!

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Backing fracking branded ‘political suicide’

Fracking isn’t on the list of key questions the IET is suggesting members ask candidates in the run up to the general election, but it’s an important local issue for anyone living in a constituency where exploration is possible. A Greenpeace survey found that nearly a third of people would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports shale gas exploration, prompting the organisation to warn that backing the technology would be a bad move. This might make it a critical factor in key marginals, almost half of respondents said it won’t affect the way they vote though.

Girls ‘discouraged’ to pursue engineering by parents’ perceptions

Neither of my daughters has shown an interest in a career in engineering yet, but unlike 93 per cent of parents polled by the IET I wouldn’t hesitate to support them if they did. The disappointing figure is of course more to do with what the public think a job in the sector involves, and the salary it would attract. Good news is that 39 per cent of girls enjoy subjects at school that can lead to a career in engineering or technology. All they have to do now is persuade their parents that it’s a good alternative to hair and beauty.

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology editor
Google launches computer on a stick

So, computers are getting ever smaller – and Google has just announced plans to launch (working with Asus) a PC on a stick. Carry it around in your pocket, and when you need to check your emails or browse the web, just plug it into any TV screen – and voila: You’ve got a computer. Well, provided you have a keyboard and mouse handy, too. Dubbed the Chromebit, the computer on a stick is much cheaper than your ordinary laptop, priced at just $100. Let’s see how it works once it hits the market in mid-2015 – but with the promised spec such as an ARM Mali 760 processor, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, as well as a USB port, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities, I might just opt to have the stick in my purse rather than lug around a heavy laptop in my rucksack.

Laura Onita  Laura Onita, news reporter
Big data to cut delays on construction sites

Excavation work on the new Crossrail transit line in London was halted in March after construction workers stumbled across the graves of some 3,000 skeletons under Liverpool Street and it will take archaeologists a few good months to clear the site. Scenarios like this can cause delays that in turn cost companies – or the taxpayer – money. However, Oxford-based start-up Democrata developed a new tool that will allow engineers and construction companies to tell what’s under the ground before they start digging. Bye bye, ancient burial grounds.

Graphene light bulb heads for shops

I recently bought a light bulb for one of my lamps, but I it was the wrong type, so I had to go back and get a different one, which didn’t fit either – you’re probably questioning my discerning abilities, but that’s not the point here. The third attempt was a success, but I had already spent almost £10 on light bulbs by then, so I was thrilled to hear that a new type, made of graphene, will hit the market in a few months and it will cost less than the conventional LED bulb – I’m sure you can see why. However, triviality aside, it will consume less energy and is expected to have a longer lifetime, and most importantly it uses graphene, “the wonder material” with great mechanical strength and electrical conductivity, which from the moment of discovery up until now has been put to good use.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Google launches computer on a stick

Google’s new computer on a stick can add a totally new meaning to that popular and somewhat cliché-ed ‘carrot-and-stick’ idiom, usually used with reference to politics. Purely for marketing purposes and to maintain the ongoing trend to name electronic goodies after berries, fruit and veggies, I would strongly advise Google developers to call their new sticky creation ‘Carrot’, or better ‘Carrot GA’ (for Google and Asus). Who knows – it might even outsell the Raspberry Pi. Bon appetit!

City with 3.5 hour winter days to host Finland’s largest solar plant

A bit of heartwarming news on the eve of an unusually chilly and drab Easter weekend. I haven’t visited Oulu, but did spend several days in Rovaniemi, another of Finland’s northernmost town, advertising itself as “the official hometown of Santa Claus”. (It was the latter whom I went to interview there on the Christmas Eve 1992 – a rather unusual journalistic assignment). Well, if Oulu, reportedly, has 3,5 hours of daylight on an average winter day, Rovaniemi has even fewer – no more than a couple of hours, as far as I can remember. And that was not actually daylight, but what the locals call “a blue moment” – a brief, and indeed bizarrely blue-ish, interlude between night and… another night. In summer of course, the Sun doesn’t set at all for several months in the area close to the Polar Circle. Oulu therefore sounds like an ideal location for a large solar plant. I hope, with time, Rovaniemi gets one too, for it is uncomfortable for Santa’s numerous elves to write their Christmas greetings to all the good kids of the world in semi-darkness. As they say, fiat lux – let there be light!

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Alan Blumlein, pioneer of stereo sound, honoured at Abbey Road

It was a pleasure to attend the celebration of the life and work of Alan Dower Blumlein at Abbey Road Studios for the unveiling of the IEEE plaque that officially recognises his work. As your correspondent is both an amateur recording enthusiast and a lifelong devoted Beatles fan, standing in Studio 2 where all the Beatles music was made in the 1960s, and surrounded by the vintage equipment that Blumlein designed 30 years earlier in his pursuit of stereophonic capture and reproduction, it was genuinely an occasion to savour. Blumlein’s work in the audio realm has stood the test of time and become more than a standard: it is simply the way things get done, the natural order of things. One of the most telling comments at the unveiling came when one of the presenters pointed out that if Alan Blumlein were to walk into Abbey Road Studios today, much of what he saw, the type of equipment and recording techniques being employed, would still be familiar to him. That is the ultimate testament to the legacy of his brilliant mind and groundbreaking work over 80 years ago.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Biometric paint ‘changes colour to reflect mood’

HMG Paints claimed this week to have developed a biometric paint which can ‘change’ colour to reflect eight different ranges of mood and emotion a person may express. The electrostatic paint, which can show anger, stress, happiness and even hungry, just happened to be announced on the first of April.

Depression app created to analyse the user’s mental state

Unlike the paint, a behavioural app has been developed to monitor a person’s mental state and to detect signs of depression. The LifeRhythm app can gather data from the sensors, microphone and GPS from the users smartphone, plus any calls and messages the user has engaged in. The researchers hope the app could help in diagnosing those with depression at an early stage.

BTPT: #Bizarre theories and pointless #technologies: the Rotating #Ice Cream Cone

April 1, 2015

By Becky Northfield

Ever gone into a shop, looked upon a piece of seemingly useless electronic equipment and thought, ‘Well what’s the point of that, then?’

Have you pondered on a theory’s mystery, or downright ludicrousness?

You are not alone…

Each week I will be sharing my thoughts on bizarre theories and pointless technologies.

This week, let us look at a contraption of the basic rotating machine with one of the most senseless technologies to come out of the last decade.

The rotating ice cream cone.

In 2008, the apparent La-Z-Boy of ice cream cones went on sale. The makers of the rotating motorised device, with 2xAA batteries NOT included, would revolutionise (see what I did there?) the ice cream world.

Technology is now enabling things to be easier, and us a little lazier. But this lazy?

Remember when you were young? Remember the trips to the seaside and the long-awaited ice cream cone during a summer day? The way the delicious dessert would begin to melt in the sunshine? You would have to lick the drips on your hands to prevent it getting too messy and then reward yourself the wafer cone. It’s a poignant reminder of my childhood.

This kid is enjoying his ice cream...see the joy on his face?

This kid is enjoying his ice cream…see the joy on his face?

This ‘easy way to have a drip-free ice cream’ was discontinued some time after its 2008 release. Websites no longer stocked the ‘rotating ice cream cone’. I thought maybe, just maybe, this blasphemous ice cream holder had been obliterated. But then I stumbled across something: the Kitsch ‘n’ Fun’s twirling ice cream cone – priced at £7.99. Damn.

If you give this pointless contraption to your child, it would amuse them for a little while. But if they are used to the wafery goodness, they may get miffed pretty quick.

Isn’t the wafer one of the main selling points of ice cream on a cone?

But perhaps for a few summers, it will be a wonderful idea for the kids. The bright plastic comes in four colours, thus there will be one for every mood.

I can hardly contain myself.

Like it? Want it?  Have it!

Like it? Want it? Have it!

I see it like this. If you don’t want the risk the stickiness of the dessert on your hands, put the stuff in a bowl and grab a spoon. Depending on whether you like the edible vessel or not, have a piece of wafer sticking out of the ice cream. Don’t buy something that requires batteries to spin your glob of ice cream around in an incessant circle.

If you’re too lazy to rotate it yourself, you’re too lazy for fun.

You can buy one here, if you wish. But many may judge you silently from afar. You have been warned.

New book blog: Keeping the world moving with ‘Energy: All That Matters’ by Paul L Younger

March 31, 2015

The probEnergy All That Matterslem of the lights going out may only be a notional one for most of the industrialised world, but many believe that it’s going to prove to be the defining topic of our age.

As uncertainty over the long-term availability of resources leads to massive price volatility, is there a large-scale energy crisis on the horizon, and what can we do to the keep the world moving while addressing the broad consensus about the threat of climate change? Doing nothing is hardly a credible option, but the technical and socio-economic challenges are almost overwhelming.

For anyone seeking a broad introduction to the issues that looks at scientific, engineering, environmental, social and economic dimensions in a concise way comes the latest addition to the ‘All That Matters’ series, in which Professor Paul Younger of the University of Glasgow offers an authoritative overview in a single easy to read, pocket-size book.

With a background in earth sciences and environmental engineering, Professor Paul Younger has some 30 years’ experience in the water, mining and energy industries. One of the best features of this unique take on the emerging energy trilemma is a ‘100 ideas’ section which unlike a reading list suggests a hundred aspects of the subject to look into from pioneers of engineering to half a dozen energy movies worth watching.

‘Energy: All That Matters’ by Paul L Younger is published by John Murray, price £8.99, ISBN 9781473601888

New book blog: Lessons in digital learning from ‘Minds Online’ by Michelle D Miller

March 30, 2015

It’Minds Onlines nearly 20 years since Steve Jobs told Wired magazine that throwing computers at American schools was never going to tackle the problem of falling standards.

“I used to think that technology could help education.” he said. “But I’ve had to come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem is not one that technology can hope to solve. What’s wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will make a dent. It’s a political problem. The problems are sociopolitical… The problems are unions in the schools. The problem is bureaucracy.”

A lot has changed since then and Apple has been at the forefront of bringing technology into classrooms across the world, with schools boasting of how learning will be improved by giving every student an iPad.

In a sector as complex as education it’s difficult to prove whether or not technology leads directly to better test scores. Fans and sceptics alike can provide evidence to back up their opinions, children will appear to be more engaged because of course they’ll find lessons more interesting. Not least, institutions that can afford the equipment, or can persuade parents to provide it, are likely to boast the sort of qualities that lead to higher scores in the way the schools are usually rated.

We’re overloaded with prejudices, statistics and anecdotal evidence, but in an age when the home broadband connection going down is a crisis that can prevent even a primary school child finishing their homework, so reliant have schools become on internet access as a fact of life, Michelle Miller provides a refreshing perspective by drawing on the latest findings from the field of neuroscience and cognitive psychology.

In ‘Minds Online’, Miller, who is a psychology professor at Northern Arizona University in the US, looks at the whole question of how digital technology has infiltrated the education sector in recent years, from the infrastructure behind networked schools and colleges to the hardware now commonplace in smart classrooms and the way lessons are delivered through new techniques like massive open online courses.

Aimed at those working at the coal face of teaching, this is a concise, non-technical guide to how the human brain assimilates knowledge. Miller draws on the latest research to explain how attention, memory, and higher thought processes such as critical thinking and analytical reasoning can be enhanced through technology-aided approaches.

This isn’t just theory. It also provides a practical guide to the process of creating a syllabus a fully online course, including how to use multimedia effectively, how to take advantage of learners’ existing knowledge, and how to motivate students to do their best work and complete every task.

And bearing in mind that these days we never stop learning, it’s useful information for anyone who wants to make the most of technology in a training environment.

 ‘Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology’ by Michelle D Miller is published by Harvard University Press, price £20.95, ISBN 9780674368248

Germanwings #Flight4U9525 – co-pilot Andreas Lubitz and black box details – two annotated infographics

March 27, 2015

Reflecting on the difficulty in ascertaining the cause of many high-profile, high-casualty plane crashes, it is unsettling for entirely different reasons to know with near-certainty so soon after the incident that the cause of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 crashing headfirst in to the Alps was a depressed co-pilot who had lost the will to live and consciously took the necessary steps to enact such a tragedy.

Despite the plane exploding on impact, instantly killing everyone on board, the black box recorder has been retrieved from the crash site, albeit battered and mangled. Analysis of the cockpit voice recordings may reveal further insights in to the events of that flight, although nothing that can change or mitigate its terrible end.

Click on the graphics for an expanded view.

Flight 9525 cockpit view

Flight 9525 cockpit view


Flight 9525 black box recorders

Flight 9525 black box recorders



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